Entries in Riddle, Clive (260)

Wednesday
May102017

An Interview With Kaiser’s Robert Pearl, MD on Mistreated Patients and the American Health Care System

By Clive Riddle

By Clive Riddle, May 10, 2017

 

Doctor Robert Pearl, certainly a prominent figure in American healthcare today, agreed to sit down and expand upon his thoughts on the American health care system in 2017 and its impact upon patients. His new book, Mistreated - Why We Think We're Getting Good Health Care and Why We're Usually Wrong has just been released this month by Public Affairs, and we hoped he would elaborate on some of the questions that come to mind from issues raised in Mistreated, and in his public speaking appearances.

 

Robert Pearl, MD, is executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, responsible for the health care of 3.8 million Kaiser Permanente members, and he is the president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. He is on faculty at Stanford and has taught at Duke, UC Berkeley, and Harvard. His column on Forbes.com addresses the business and culture of health care, and he has been featured in national media including Time, ABC News, USA Today, and NPR.

 

So here’s what Doctor Pearl shared with us in response to our half dozen questions:

 

Q. You have been an influential healthcare stakeholder and thought leader for some time. American healthcare has been problematic for even longer. What confluence of events influenced you to write this book at this juncture?

 

Doctor Pearl: The American health care system is walking towards a cliff, and if nothing is done to change course, we will step over the edge and crash to the ground below. We spend almost 50% more than any other country in the world and our outcomes are in the lower half of industrialized nations. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year from failures in prevention and medical error, including my dad. Our system most closely resembles a 19th century cottage industry. It is fragmented, with doctors scattered across the community and hospitals in every town, piece meal, what we call fee-for-service and using information technology from the last century. The cost is rising faster than our ability to pay. The government is spending 40% of tax revenues on health care today, and with 10,000 people becoming eligible for Medicare every day, that will rise rapidly in the future. And businesses are implementing high deductible insurance products, with patients increasingly unable to pay the out of pocket expense. In other words, the "patient" is becoming critical. I wrote Mistreated for two reasons. The first was my career long desire to make American health care better. And the second to prevent other people from losing their parent prematurely. For both reasons, all profits from the book will be given to charity to provide care to patients unable to access it today.

 

Q. You have written about how healthcare organizations should be less, and not more, regulated in some respects - for example reducing regulation in order to facilitate workflows that would allow hospital patients to get more uninterrupted sleep during the night. You also have written that a single payer system is not the answer for American healthcare. What legislative changes do you advocate in your book?

 

Doctor Pearl: I believe that change can best happen through transparent and fair competition. Making it possible for insurance companies, ACOs and large, multi-specialty medical groups to offer products that patients can understand, compare and choose among would be valuable. I have confidence in the wisdom of people and businesses to make the best selection, once they have broad choice and sufficient information.

 

I also believe that the government needs to address the egregious pricing by many drug companies. The patent laws were written for the greater good of all. They were designed to encourage R&D and focus drug companies on solving the most important clinical problems that exist. They never were designed to allow manufacturers to buy the rights to long standing, inexpensive drugs and raise their prices 500% - 5000 %.

 

Q. You cite three technologies as being key to transforming American health care: Video and digital photography; Data analytics; and EHR. These are not exotic items. So what are some primary factors in 2017 that are still holding us back from deploying these three items at optimal levels?

 

Doctor Pearl: There are three reasons I believe these technologies are not more broadly used. The first is that to use them effectively requires an integrated delivery system that is prepaid with effective physician leadership. Without all three pillars, the information in the EHR will be incomplete, the data analytics difficult to apply, and applications like video economically problematic.  The second reason is physician inertia. According to the Rand Corporation, it takes 17 years for a great idea to become common practice. Finally, when it comes to video and digital, the problem with these technologies is that they are inexpensive. As such, there is no manufacturer or device company that wants to invest the dollars needed to encourage and train physicians to embrace these patient conveniences. And without this level of support change is slow to happen.

 

Q. Speaking of exotic technologies, you are not necessarily the biggest fan of focusing on all things new and shiny, and have cited the challenges in overcoming behavioral biases in that direction. What are some significant examples of technologies that have at this point benefited from undeserved demand from consumers or providers?

 

Doctor Pearl: As you note, as a nation we are attracted to the new and the hyped. A variety of expensive medications fit this description. Often they have minimal improvements over what was previously available, or extend life by a few weeks for most patients.  Another example is Artificial Intelligence. It sounds great, but most of the systems are really just fancy computers with physician developed algorithms, not real self-learning applications. Similarly, expensive fitness trackers are minimally better than the free application on your smart phone. And medical wearable devices can transmit hundreds of heart rhythm tracings, but doctors don't want them cluttering up their EHRs, and rarely do they add value for someone without a known cardiac arrhythmia.

 

Q. You are a strong advocate for clinical integration. What in 2017 are the biggest impediments in urban markets that lack adequate clinical integration? And how do we bring greater clinical integration to rural America?

 

Doctor Pearl: In urban areas, the limitations are the associated changes that need to happen. For integration to add value, you need to create a structure with the right number of physicians from each specialty. Often there are too many or too few in a typical community. For the new structure to add major value, reimbursement needs to change, rewarding prevention and avoidance of medical error as highly as intervention. And altering how doctors are paid is always contentious. The computer systems need to connect, and that is difficult to accomplish today. Finally, physician leadership is essential, and that requires investments in training and a willingness of all to relinquish autonomy.

 

In some ways the rural areas could be easier. In this case I believe the structure can be virtual, with specialists in more urban areas linked to primary care in the rural location. We are already using this type of approach in our on-site clinics located in large businesses. Here specialists whose offices may be in a hospital miles away can consult on a employee needing specialty expertise without having to ask the patient to drive to the physicians' location and miss a day of work. Over half of the time, this solves the patient's problem.

 

Q. In what ways do you hope consumers will change their actions or thought processes as a result of reading your book? And in what ways do you hope other healthcare stakeholders will be influenced?

 

Doctor Pearl: I wrote Mistreated for the patient in all of us. My father was a professional with well trained doctors, and yet, he experienced a medical error from the lack of a comprehensive electronic health record and inability of his doctors to communicate effectively.  The first step to transforming American health care is to help people see what they are missing and why. Having done so, I would hope they would begin to make different choices in the health plan and delivery system they select. Information can be difficult to obtain, but increasingly it is available. Choose a five star program in Medicare or on the health care exchanges. Check to see if there is reported data on outcomes for various procedures like heart surgery, and go to the programs with the best results. Ask physicians before you have a procedure how many of these they did last year, and choose ones with the highest volume. And when you are in a hospital or doctor's office, and anyone fails to wash their hands before examining you, speak up.

 

Specific to the medical profession, my hope is that change will happen soon, rather than waiting for the predictible crisis. The current system isn't working for clinicians any more than patients. The fragmentation that exists today leads to isolation. Fee-for-service makes doctors feel like they are having to run faster and faster, and convince patients they need things done that often add little value. The lack of technology and medical information leads to errors. And the lack of leadership reduces coordination of care and produces growing frustrations in the practice of medicine.  Change always is difficult and scary, but it can happen. And when it does, I believe both patients and physicians will benefit immensely.

 

The current system is broken. I am optimistic that when large numbers of people from diverse backgrounds come together to talk about their experiences and recommendations, that we can improve health care delivery in the future. That is my hope in writing the book. The path I describe is the one I believe best for the nation, but I look forward to learning from others. If Mistreated stimulates discussion, debate and improvement, and as a result tens of thousands of lives are saved each year, then my father's death will have served a purpose.

 
Friday
May052017

Different Approaches in Tackling the Surprise Medical Bill Problem

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By Clive Riddle, May 5, 2017

 

Surprise medical bills – from out of network physicians affiliated with network hospitals, and other similar situations – have been a long standing problem vexing consumers, providers, plans, employers and regulators. This simmering issue began boiling over the past few years as growth in narrow networks and ever increasing retail charges exacerbated the problem.

 

Arizona last week had Senate Bill 1441 signed into law: “The legislation, which takes effect in 2019, will allow a consumer with an out-of-network bill exceeding $1,000 to contact the Arizona Department of Insurance to request the appointment of an arbitrator. The insurer and health-care provider must try to settle the dispute through an informal telephone conference within 30 days of the consumer's arbitration request. The case advances to arbitration if the two sides cannot agree to an amount, with the insurer and health-care provider splitting the cost. Either party would have the right to appeal an arbitrator's decision to the county Superior Court.”

 

Oregon, Texas and Nevada, to name some states, currently have legislative activity of different kinds on this front.

 

Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News ran a nice April 20th 2017 article, Out-of-Network Billing: ‘Surprise Billing’ or ‘Surprise Gaps In Insurance Coverage’? that included a great summary of state level initiatives addressing these surprises.  Included in this discussion was:

·         A number of states are linking reimbursement to rates determined by the independent third-party database.

·         In New York  “Hospitals must disclose which health plans they accept and list standard charges for services. Perhaps most important, they must alert patients that physicians working at an in-network facility may not actually participate in the insurance network and can therefore bill patients directly.”

·         “California recently passed a law that settles out-of-network billing disputes by using one of two benchmarks. Providers will be reimbursed the greater of either 125% of Medicare rates or the insurer’s average contracted rate for the same or similar services in the same geographic region.”…but “not surprisingly, the California law is already being challenged in court.”

·         “Florida’s new law sets reimbursement for out-of-network claims at the lesser of: the provider’s charges; the UCR provider charges for similar services in the community where the services were provided; or the charge mutually agreed to by the insurer and the provider within 60 days of the submittal of the claim. The key in Florida moving forward will be how UCR is defined.”

 

The American Journal of Managed Care  has just issued a release discussing an article in their current issue: Battling the Chargemaster: A Simple Remedy to Balance Billing for Unavoidable Out-of-Network Care, in which “two doctors and two lawyers say they have a solution that doesn’t require legislation: better use of contract law…..Authors Barak D. Richman, JD, PhD; Nick Kitzman, JD; Arnold Milstein, MD, MPH; and Kevin A. Schulman, MD, say the problem starts with the ‘chargemaster,’ a hospital’s master list of prices for billable services. The authors say the defining feature of the chargemaster is that it is ‘devoid of any calculation related to cost,’ and has no relation to local market conditions.”

 

They release continues that “acontract law solution empowers the very parties who currently are being exploited by out-of-network charges,” they write. An emerging consensus, supported by a key court ruling, finds that providers are not entitled to ‘chargemaster’ rates, because neither the patient nor the payer agreed to them. Instead, the authors write, the law “entitles providers to collect no more than the prevailing negotiated market prices” for out-of-network care. In other words, rates already negotiated by hospitals, doctors, and area payers are the norm, not those artificially inflated on the ‘chargemaster.’ This leads to a stark conclusion, the authors find. ‘Providers have no legal authority to collect chargemaster charges that exceed market prices for out-of-network services, nor are payers under any obligation to pay such chargemaster prices.’ The authors make their case in a legal analysis available online.”

 

So while “the authors praise state legislators for trying to end surprise medical bills, they say the courtroom is the proper place for these disputes. Other remedies, like bans on out-of-network bills, don’t encourage cost-saving steps or competition.”

 
Friday
Apr212017

How Do You Build a Culture of Innovation at a Healthcare Organization?

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By Clive Riddle, April 21, 2017

 

Now that we’re thirty days in the Spring of 2017, nurturing seedlings with hopes of taking deeper root should be on the mind of every healthcare gardener. Along these lines, the current issue of Healthcare Innovation News asks their panel the question, “How Do You Build a Culture of Innovation Within Your Organization?” Here’s some excerpts from what these sowers of innovation seeds had to say:

 

David R. Strand, Chief Executive Officer of Life Cross Training, based in Chicago, says in part, “We often point to technology advances as “innovation” in healthcare. Yet, the next real innovation in healthcare will come from our investments in human capital—investments in the people we count on to deliver high-quality care and a great patient experience.  Addressing this problem requires comprehensive, innovative solutions focused in three distinct areas: (1) Improving the practice environment. Systematically identifying and eliminating hassles from technology to process to organizational design and identifying and accentuating those things that bring joy to clinical practice; (2) Aligning teams around common values and shared goals. Establishing guiding principles for interactions with one another and with patients and building cultures that support the well-being of both patients and clinicians; (3) Providing clinicians with evidence-based skills driving individual well-being. Ensuring that clinicians are better equipped to handle the intrinsic stress associated with their work and busy lives.

 

James Polfreman, CEO and President of Solis Mammography based in Addison, Texas echoes the theme that technology is not enough, sharing that  “In the field of women’s breast health, innovation is not only measured in terms of technology and clinical accuracy, but also in areas of patient service, convenience and care to ensure annual compliance and repeat business.” He advises that “to foster innovation, an environment must be actively cultivated to promote openness and collaboration in order to tap into the natural passion of employees. This type of environment benefits the entire team and translates into superior patient care Well-informed teams are vital. Communication of a crystal-clear vision and mission is fundamental……When new ideas are implemented, having clear processes in place from training to implementation is key…..Consistently challenging the status quo motivates initiative….. Finally, a culture of innovation is maintained through leadership by example, repetition and affirmation of a job well done. This influences how you attract, recruit, retain, train and reward teams.”

 

Joanna Engelke, Managing Director at Halloran Consulting Group in Boston counsels in part that “there are numerous best practices cited to support an innovative culture: (A) Enabling employees to spend 5% to 10% of their time on freethinking and creating “skunkworks” projects—those dedicated solely to radical innovation; (B) Creating office designs that encourage “bumping into each other” with lots of light, mobile whiteboards, huddle rooms, collaboration centers and games; (C) Investing in an internal, venture capital-like fund with all the trappings of pitches, business plans, proof of concept and funding milestones that are outside a regular product development arena; (D) Sponsoring crowd-sourced, problem-solving fairs for internal and external participation; (E) Surveying employees to gain an understanding of internal practices that block or prevent innovation; (F)                 Rewarding innovation in each department of an organization.” But Joanna reminds us, “the real secret sauce to an innovative culture is very basic: Management must pay attention.”

 

Finally, Summerpal Kahlon, M.D., Director of Care Innovation at Oracle Health Sciences, based in Satellite Beach, Florida, says we need to listen. “Listening is a key skill in healthcare.” In particular he advocates listening to data through analytics. He cites these as examples that can drive innovation – “There are a few high-value, rich sources of information that can provide interesting lifestyle insight: Demographic information, including occupation, income and family/social environment; Environmental data, including census, local crime statistics and accessible parks/recreation; and Retail data, particularly for grocery and drugstores.”

 
Friday
Apr142017

Reducing Emergency Visits and Admissions for Epilepsy Patients: Nationwide Children’s Dr. Anup Patel Answers Our Questions

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By Clive Riddle, April 14, 2017

 

What can a single quality improvement project accomplish at a single hospital? Just ask Nationwide Children’s, who  performed a quality improvement project and found new, simple ways to significantly decrease the number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations in pediatric patients with epilepsy.” They achieved a 28% decline in emergency visits, a 43% decline in admissions and saved $2 million in costs for these patients.

 

By sharing their research findings in the current issue of Pediatrics, and highlighted in Nationwide Children’s research publication Research Now, hospitals, physicians and purchasers performing care management can adopt Nationwide’s approach to their own settings.

 

We are told that “Nationwide Children’s Hospital serves almost 3,500 children diagnosed with epilepsy. In 2012 and much of 2013, the Emergency Department was experiencing approximately 17 visits per 1,000 epilepsy patients per month. In the minds of both Emergency Medicine physicians and epilepsy subspecialists, that was too many.”

 

The hospital shares that “the QI team identified ‘key drivers’ (or contributing factors) of ED visits, and found they centered on provider-to-provider communication issues and patient/family resources, education, beliefs and comorbidities. Then the team began interventions to target those key drivers. Most important was the establishment of an Urgent Epilepsy Clinic,” which they tell us involved family visits lasting 90 minutes or longer, with as little as three days’ notice.

 

Nationwide Children’s also identified that “abortive seizure medication was under dosed (or not given at all). Nationwide Children’s built an alert system into its electronic health records – when a provider entered what appeared to be an incorrect dosage based on size and age, the provider would be notified of the proper dose.”  Their additional interventions developed from the project included a color-coded seizure action plan, which helped caregivers understand what a baseline seizure looks like and when to call Neurology; and a personalized magnet giving caregivers information about how to give abortive seizure medications.”

 

The results? Emergency visits reduced from 17.0 to 12.2 per month per 1,000 children epilepsy patients during the past year. The average number of inpatient epilepsy children hospitalizations per month was reduced from 7 admissions per month per 1000 patients to 4 admissions per month per 1000 patients. 

Anup Patel, MD, a pediatric epileptologist and member of the Division of Neurology at Nationwide Children’s, and leader of the QI project and resulting research paper was nice enough to respond to some follow-up questions I asked after reading about the project.

 

First, I asked  him what is the approximate epilepsy incidence/1,000 population (pediatric preferably). He shared this information from Epilepsy.com which he recommends as a great source information on epilepsy:

 

Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological problem – only migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease occurs more frequently. There are many different ways to explain how often a disease occurs. Here’s a few points to consider.

What is the incidence of epilepsy in the United States?

·         The average incidence of epilepsy each year in the U. S is estimated at 150,000 or 48 for every 100,000 people.

·         Another way of saying this- each year, 150,000 or 48 out of 100,000 people will develop epilepsy.

·         The incidence of epilepsy is higher in young children and older adults. This means that epilepsy starts more often in these age groups.

·         When the incidence of epilepsy is looked at over a lifetime, 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy at sometime in their life.

·         Seizures are the number on most common Neurologic Emergency that we see in children.

What is the prevalence of epilepsy in the United States?

There are many different estimates of the prevalence of epilepsy. These numbers vary depending on when the studies were done, who was included, and a host of other factors.

·         The number of people with epilepsy, using prevalence numbers, ranges from 1.3 million to 2.8 million (or 5 to 8.4 for every 1,000 people).

·         The estimate currently thought to be most accurate is 2.2 million people or 7.1 for every 1,000 people.

·         However, higher numbers of people report that they have active epilepsy, 8.4 out of 1,000 people. These numbers are even higher when people are asked if they have ever had epilepsy (called lifetime prevalence). 16.5 per 1,000 people reported that they had epilepsy at some point in their life.

 

Next I asked him about the second intervention in the project regarding abortive seizure medication under dosed or not given. How much is medication adherence/compliance an issue for this population?  Dr. Patel responds that “We know that medication adherence to daily seizure medications is a risk factor for ED visits in patients with epilepsy.  In regards to abortive seizure medication (medication given for long or repeat seizures), we found under dosing was an issue (previous literature – Patel in Epilepsy and Behavior 2014) and that parents were either anxious, did not remember, or did not get proper instruction on how to give medications.”

 

Noting that the project identified comorbidities as a key driver, I asked him what are the typical comorbidities? He replied “Developmental delay, autism, cerebral palsy, depression, and anxiety.”

I asked Dr, Patel to elaborate on the calculation that their interventions yielded $2 million in annual savings. He responded that “our average ED visit was $640 and a subsequent hospitalization averaged $14,500 in claims paid. When you look at the reduction of both ED visits and the hospitalizations associated with the ED visit, you get the $2 million savings per year”.

 

Lastly, I asked if a similar approach work for an adult population as well. The short answer is yes. 

 
Friday
Apr072017

Health Plans and the Opiod Abuse Crisis

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By Clive Riddle, April 7, 2017

 

The Associated Press reports that Dr. Scott Gottlieb, “the doctor nominated to head the powerful Food and Drug Administration told senators Wednesday that his first priority would be tackling the opioid crisis.” 

 

What are health plans doing about Opiod Abuse? Last June, the California Health Care Foundation released  a report taking the issue on: Changing Course: The Role of Health Plans in Curbing the Opioid Epidemic, along with companion California health plan case studies and an infographic. Nationally, last fall AHIP weighed in, discussing how health plans are Fighting Opioid Abuse With Solutions That Work.

 

So what are some current developments on the health plan Opioid Abuse front?

 

Cigna has just announced that Use of Prescribed Opioids Down Nearly 12 Percent Over 12 Months Among Cigna Customers. Cigna reports that “58 medical groups participating in Cigna Collaborative Care, representing nearly 62,000 doctors, have signed Cigna's pledge to reduce opioid prescribing and to treat opioid use disorder as a chronic condition.”

 

Cigna states that their program works with participating doctors to: (1) Analyze integrated claims data across pharmacy and medical benefits to detect opioid use patterns that suggest possible misuse by individuals, and then notifying their health care providers; (2) Alert doctors when their opioid prescribing patterns are not consistent with CDC guidelines; and (3) Establish a database of opioid quality improvement initiatives for doctors.

 

Cigna also reports that “effective July 1, most new prescriptions for a long-acting opioid that are not being used as part of treatment for cancer or sickle cell disease, or for hospice care, will be subject to prior authorization, and most new prescriptions for a short-acting opioid will be subject to quantity limits.”

 

Last week the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans announced their member plans have jointly committed to combating opioid abuse and addiction in Wisconsin and effective April 1, Wisconsin's community-based health plans are collaborating on new initiatives.  The Association members agreed to: (1) support the Association’s Statement of Principles for addressing opioid abuse  that “form the basis for sharing information, best practices and evidence-based strategies”; (2) Track morphine equivalent dose and first-time user trends for their individual and employer group members,, generating comparative data to enrich provider education and management of prescription drug formularies and coverage policies; (3) Work with provider partners to support strategies to reduce and control the level of opioid prescribing; (4) Share methodologies, best practices and evidence-based strategies to improve the quality of pain management and opioid prescribing; and (5) Ensure that every member suffering from opioid abuse has access to medically-appropriate treatment options.

 

Two weeks ago BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York released episode four of their Point of Health Audiocast, “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic from a Health Plan Perspective,” aimed at increasing awareness of the issue and engaging stakeholders.

 

FamilyCare Health, a health plan serving Oregon Medicaid and Medicare members, “kicks off its 4-part Opioid Training series for providers on Thursday, April 27, 2017 with ‘Buprenorphine: What we know and what we don’t. Prescribing safely for pain management and opioid dependence.’ “

 

And last week, Prime Therapeutics, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association PBM, released two studies, highlighting strategies for addressing opioid epidemic.  The first study “analyzed concurrent use of opioids with benzodiazepines”, citing “previous research has shown concurrent use of these two types of drugs can increase the risk of overdose and death,” and “found more than one in six opioid users without cancer – or nine per 1,000 commercially insured members – used these two drugs concurrently for 30 days or more in 2015.” Their second study “found pharmacists based in a PBM or health plan, who do outreach to prescribers, can reduce emergency room visits and controlled substance drug costs among persistent users of controlled substances.” Following the outreach conducted with the study intervention group, “controlled substances drug costs per member for the intervention group dropped from $5,802 to $5,148, while controlled substance drug costs increased for the control group from $3,511 to $3,627 per member. Emergency department visits were 6.4 percent lower in the intervention group, compared with the control group.”